Boston Considering Soda Ban

September 21/Hamilton, Ontario/The Hamilton Spectator -- First, it was smoking in restaurants and bars. Then, artery-clogging trans fat in fast food joints and bakeries. Now, Boston health regulators have set their sights on soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages sold in city buildings.

Concerned about the girth of employees and visitors to government agencies, Boston officials are pondering whether to restrict or prohibit the sale of calorie-laden refreshments on city property.

The city has convened influential health, education and housing leaders to develop a policy that aims to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. While discussions are ongoing, Bill Walczak, head of a community health centre and a member of the city's panel, said, "Somebody has to take a stand, and if it isn't the government and healthcare institutions leading the way to a healthier lifestyle, who's going to do it?"

There are precedents: San Francisco's mayor earlier this year issued an executive order banning sale of sugary drinks, and New York has imposed rules governing the mix of beverages in city vending machines to favour water.

In both cases, politicians and health authorities cited the link between soft drinks and the nation's bulging waistline: From the mid-1970s to 2000, the average American's daily calorie load attributed to sugary drinks rose from 70 to 190, one study reported. Harvard researchers found that women who consume more than two of the beverages a day have an almost 40% higher risk of heart disease than women who do not.

Boston's earlier prohibitions on workplace smoking and trans fat arrived at a time when public sentiment had already shifted. However, Mayor Thomas M. Menino's top health official acknowledged that restricting the availability of sodas, which are already banned from the city's schools, could engender greater resistance than previous public health causes.

"I think we're going to run into a big issue of people saying, 'Why would you take away our sodas? Why are you interfering with what we're eating and drinking?'" said Barbara Ferrer, of the Boston Public Health Commission.

Ferrer said no policy has been drafted, but it appears inevitable that some measure will be adopted. The city promised when it received a $12.5 million federal stimulus grant to combat obesity and tobacco that it would "decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages through counter-advertising and policy change," according to a city document.

The American Beverage Association is understandably upset. Spokesman Chris Gindlesperger said, "Outright bans, they do nothing to teach people about balance and moderation. It's overly simplistic and inaccurate to target one product or one ingredient when it comes to obesity."  

From the October 4, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition